UPDATE: The winner is…miki!
The last line of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has always struck me as the greatest irony of the entire song. “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” So many people in this country have that flag waving over them yet they are not free to be their authentic selves because of the -isms running rampant throughout US history. Jews who chose to change their names, gays who chose to remain in the closet, people of color who chose to pass for white. These subterfuges many times were taken not because of shame for their identity but because of lack of opportunity and/or safety. Such is the story of Belle da Costa Greene.
Belle was born Belle Marian Greener in Washington D.C. to an African American family, which numbered among the Black elite of the late 1800s. Her father, Richard T. Greener, was the first African American to graduate from Harvard. Although light enough to pass for white, he never did. Despite the horrific dismantling of Reconstruction and its immediate impact on their family’s situation in South Carolina, Greener lived his life as a vocal advocate for equal rights for his race. His wife however came to a different conclusion: passing for white would enable her family to have the opportunities and safety they deserved. They moved to New York and lived as whites. This choice however led to her parents’ separation.
Belle’s father’s love of illustrated manuscripts instilled a love for the written word in her. She trained as a librarian and was working at Princeton University’s library where she caught the eye of Junius Morgan, J.P. Morgan’s nephew. This led to the opportunity of a lifetime, and in 1905, she became the librarian/curator for J.P. Morgan’s library. She helped him amass a collection that became world famous and envied by museums around the world. Quite an accomplishment in the days before suffrage was achieved and career women were looked at with suspicion.
She retired from the Morgan Library in 1948, one year before her death. By then, she had enabled Morgan’s dream to come true: to make his library available as a resource to the public. I was glad once again to learn of another heroic Black woman, both from The Personal Librarian, a fictionalized account of her life and the biography, An Illuminated Life: Belle Da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege. However, I felt sad society wouldn’t have allowed her to accomplish all she had if she’d claimed her true heritage. I was also moved by the emotional costs Belle paid for choosing to live while hiding in plain sight. Her choice showed a woman could still be brave even if the land in which she lived wouldn’t let her be free.
For a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card, share the name of someone you admire who may have had to change their name or hide some part of who they were to succeed.
One Breath Away
Sentenced to hang for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. She’s never been courted, cuddled or spooned, and now no man could want her, not when sexual satisfaction comes only with the thought of asphyxiation. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.
Wealthy, freeborn-Black, Eban Thurman followed Mary to Safe Haven, believing the mysteriously exotic woman was foretold by the stars. He must marry her to reclaim his family farm. But first he must help her heal, and to do that means revealing his own predilection for edgier sex.
Hope ignites along with lust until the past threatens to keep them one breath away from love…
Excerpt from One Breath Away…
In 1872 Texas who took note of a black woman who ain’t been asked to wed?
Yet Eban’s perusal said not only did he take note, but he liked what he saw.
“Ooo, Mother Hawthorne,” Felicity Parker teased. The sandy-haired, light-skinned beauty smiled as only a twenty-something-no-longer-a- virgin woman like her could. “Your nephew’s a- lookin’ Mountain’s way.” She eyed Mary from head to toe. “Does he like his berries big, black, and buxom?”
“Could be. Ya know what they say…” Widow Clemma Hawthorne’s smile grew into a grin. She sat on Mary’s right and whispered to Felicity on Mary’s left. “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”
The mischief rife in Clemma’s tone shone in her gaze as she waggled her eyebrows at Mary.
Felicity looked Eban up and down with approval.
“If he likes ’em dark, I’ll be glad to blacken up for him. Lord knows I’s tired of beddin’ po’ boys. Whoo chile…” She fanned herself and grinned. “I was in line behind him when he made his deposit at the Savin’ and Loan. His gold rushed across that counter like freedmen hurryin’ to claim their forty acres and a mule.” She turned and nudged Mary. “You juicy enough for that rich he-man, Blackberry?”